Holding Interactions in a Clinical Family
Elisabeth Fivaz, Ph.D
Daniel Martin, Ph.D
Barbro Cornut-Zimmer, Ph.D.
Body position is a critical feature of social intercourse, yet one that has received little attention by nonverbal-interaction researchers. Some exceptions are the research on adult interaction positions by Adam Kendon (1970) and rhythmicity of position changes by William Condon (1976). In this presentation, Fivaz, Martin, and Cornut-Zimmer introduce a methodology for analyzing body positioning and holding of infants during their face-to‐ face interactions with adults.
A series of classical case studies on early pathological interactions have highlighted the importance of appropriately holding the infant during interactions (Benjamin and Tennes, 1958; Call, 1963; Spitz and Cobliner, 1965; Stern, 1971). Several of Massie's (1980) film analyses of infants who later developed psychopathology featured aberrant holding patterns by parents, cases that he appropriately called "interference with body contact and holding," and "interference with affective reciprocity, touching, gazing, and holding."
If the infant is not held in a comfortable position, he or she clearly lacks the support necessary for body relaxation, the contact comfort, and the physical freedom to engage in face-to-face behaviors. Yet the critical "context" behavior of holding has been virtually ignored. Why? Perhaps because face-to-face gaze patterns, facial expressions, and vocalizations have been highlighted by early-interaction researchers in their attempt to identify precursors to language development, or perhaps because infants are almost invariably placed in infant seats for this kind of research, or perhaps, as in adult research, touching and holding have been more difficult to study in the laboratory. They require intimate pairs, and, except in clinical situations, intimate dyads are rarely studied. The parent-infant dyad provides an exceptional opportunity for studying holding because it constitutes an intimate pair and because holding is a critical context for face-to-face interactions of infants.
Fivaz and her colleagues are presenting their methodology as applied to an infant interacting with its "postpartum decompensated family" members and with a stranger. Their film illustrations feature the mother and father holding the infant with limited support in a fairly upright, distal lap position. These holding patterns were presumed to interfere with face-to-face interaction, in contrast to the holding behavior of the stranger, which reputedly facilitated interaction. However, in the absence of normative data on holding patterns of "normal" parents and holding-pattern preferences of the average ten-week-old infant, data on one case may be misleading. We look forward to the results from a broader subject base to provide the proper context for such comparisons. In our own experience, infants of this age prefer to be held in an almost erect